A cruise ship reached an Alaska port with a surprise on its bow: the carcass of a humpback whale. Per the AP, the Grand Princess, a 949-foot ship in the Princess Cruises fleet, pulled into Ketchikan Wednesday morning with the marine mammal lodged on its submerged, bulbous bow, a device designed to avoid wave-making. Princess spokesman Brian O'Connor said the company was surprised and saddened to discover the whale. "It is unknown how or when this happened as the ship felt no impact," he said in a statement. "It is also unknown, at this time, whether the whale was alive or already deceased before becoming lodged on the bow." Navigators, O'Connor said, spotted no whales near the ship as it sailed overnight toward Ketchikan. Photos indicated that the whale might be a juvenile, with the Ketchikan Daily News reporting the whale was about 20 feet long.
Three distinct populations of humpbacks swim in Alaska waters, per an NOAA Fisheries rep: The Western North Pacific population remains endangered, the Mexico population is listed as threatened, and the Hawaii population is no longer listed. The cruise line has a comprehensive whale avoidance program, O'Connor noted. Ship crews have guidelines on how to operate after spotting whales and alter courses and reduce speed to avoid them. Ships must not approach within 100 yards of humpback whales and must limit observation time to 30 minutes, and vessels near humpback whales are required to proceed at a "slow, safe speed" of 10 knots or below, he added. A necropsy was planned to determine the cause of death. Ketchikan's director of ports and harbors said a tugboat towed the whale 8 miles to Gravina Island for the procedure. The NOAA is investigating the incident. (Read more humpback whale stories.)